An Astronaut Tells Us The Hardest Part About Coping With Gravity Again

Illustration for article titled An Astronaut Tells Us The Hardest Part About Coping With Gravity Again

When you leave the bounds of Earth behind, you're also saying goodbye to gravity. So just what is it like to return from space and get gravity back all of sudden? Today, Astronaut Butch Wilmore, who until last week was stationed up on the International Space Station, stopped by to tell us all about it.


As part of our Future Initiative, Wilmore joined us to take questions from both Gizmodo and io9 today, including this on all the tiny little earthbound pressures that suddenly become much less pressing in space:

Eric Limer

What do you miss most about weightlessness?

What's the best part of having gravity back?

Astronaut Butch Wilmore

When you come back to gravity you have a more pressure on your joints and a little bit of pain. You don't have that in microgravity and I miss that.

This whole experience means minimal if you can't share it. Being back on Earth means I can share my experience.

Niki Werkheiser, who heads NASA's project for 3D printing in space, also joined us to fill us in on the details of both the ISS's new 3D printer itself and what it might be used for, including this story of how a custom-designed backscratcher was made available to future astronauts on the ISS:

Meg Neal

This is awesome thanks for being here. Did you 3d print any random useless stuff for FUN? What's the biggest misconception you think people having about life on the ISS?

Niki Werkheiser, NASA 3D Printing in Zero-G Project Manager

The schedule and resources are pretty tight up there, especially astronaut time, and we had quite a few technical objectives that we had to get accomplished, so we haven't printed anything just for fun yet. However, one thing that Butch mentioned when he was up there was that he needed a backscratcher. We have now designed a pretty nifty 3D printed backscratcher and plan to uplink it to the printer for the astronauts up there now. We hate that Butch didn't get to use it though!

You can Wilmore's and Werkheiser's full interviews right here.


Top image: The Soyuz spacecraft, which brought Wilmore back down to Earth, landing last week / NASA/Bill Ingalls




They are NOT weightless, they are in free fall. They are still experiencing ~90% of the gravity they would feel on earth, they are just moving fast enough that they miss hitting the earth as they fall. If they had no gravity acting upon them, they would fly away from the earth into space.